poland

Let's restore Poland’s image

An interview with Jan Dziedziczak, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

MACIEJ PIECZYŃSKI: Pilgrims who came to World Youth Day were apparently surprised that there's no dictatorship in Poland...

JAN DZIEDZICZAK, Secretary of State for Parliamentary Affairs, Polish Community Abroad, Consular Affairs and Public Diplomacy: The World Youth Day event wasn’t just a great spiritual event, it was also a spectacular success for Poland in terms of its image. And a great success of our public diplomacy, because people visiting our country left with a great opinion about Poland. We hope that they will share their memories with their compatriots upon their return. Previous governments –and this is reflected in numerous publications – treated WYD as a religious event of a regional, self-government nature. Whereas we regarded it as the largest and most important event promoting Poland’s image to be held in the last 25 years.

Therefore, we prepared two comprehensive publications, which were handed to each visiting pilgrim. One of them, developed by the MFA and the Institute of National Remembrance, is a handbook published in nine languages (Polish, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Russian and Ukrainian) in which we describe the true history of our country, taking into account all the aspects that we can be proud of and which, from the point of view of our image, are the most important. Pilgrims were able to gleam from it that Poland defended the Western, Christian civilization, among others, at the Battle of Vienna, in the war against the Bolsheviks, in the Battle of Britain, that we've never broken allied commitments, that we were the first country which said “no” to Hitler, that it was Poland that first alerted the West about the annihilation of Jews, although our warnings were ignored, we explain why the Germans built the camp in Auschwitz on our territory and that, in fact, it was initially intended for Poles. There is also mention of Solidarity as a 10-million person strong, largest social movement in the history of mankind. Each pilgrim visiting us received so much information in an attractive, richly illustrated form, in their native language. Remember that the young, forward thinking people who came for the WYD in the future, as professors, politicians, journalists, clergymen, will have an impact on how opinion about Poland is shaped in their countries. I once took part in the World Youth Day and up to this day, after several years, I still have souvenirs from that event at home, so I'm convinced that the guests of the WYD will gain their knowledge about Poland from our publications.

I wish it were so. But something made them come to Poland, trembling with fear of dictatorship...

For 70 years Poland hasn't enjoyed a duly positive image in the West. It wasn't possible to a favourable opinion of our country from behind the Iron Curtain. The absent are always wrong, therefore others took care of shaping our image...

You're talking about history. However, the dictatorship in Poland has been talked about for the past few months.

We're the victim of attacks instigated by what is widely understood as the European left wing. It is led by activists who grew up on the moral revolution of 1968. They want to build a federation, a superstate. The paradox is that it is us, not they, who are the true heirs of the values on which European intergration was built by De Gasperi, Schumann, Adenauer – Christian values. Poland, under the government of Law and Justice, continues to live up to the true idea of the creators of the European Union. Brexit has discredited the federalists. The decision of the British was a consequence of the scandalous and irresponsible policy, detached from the European roots of Mr Tusk, Juncker and Schulz. The proof of how anti-democratic and harmful their ideas are to Europeans was made apparent in the words that Juncker used to criticise national governments for listening too much to the voice of society. The conservative government of PiS is regarded as inconvenient for the federalists. We too often forget that we're the sixth largest country in the EU, that when we entered the EU along with nine other countries we were a country larger than the other nine combined. I remember how a decade ago the government of Jarosław Kaczyński, which I was the spokesman of, was attacked by the German press literally for everything. Unlike some editor's offices in our country, German editorial offices retain their primary loyalty to their government with regards to foreign policy, even if they're generally in opposition. The principle is simple: it's more convenient for some capitals to have in Warsaw a government that agrees to everything, than a government that needs to be treated as a partner. Therefore, also today federalist elites will do anything to move us away from power.

How, in that case, does the Ministry of Foreign Affairs intend to create a positive image of Poland abroad?

Unfortunately, the issue of Poland's image was much neglected by our predecessors. We want to start a wide-ranging initiative, e.g. in the field of historic diplomacy. In addition to the publication issued for World Youth Day, we're proud of the Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews in World War II in Markowa, opened a few months ago, which is part of the European debate on the responsibility for the Holocaust. Through this institution we show clearly, in line with the truth, the great work of the Polish nation in terms of saving Jews. We decided to make use of the opening ceremony of the museum to promote the little-known history of the Ulma family and in general that of Poles as the Righteous Among the Nations in the world. Out of this small, it would seem, local ceremony, the MFA made an international event. Different types of initiatives, exhibitions and meetings related to the opening of the museum took place in 40 countries, including the USA, Great Britain, Israel... In Singapore, the Polish diplomatic mission, along with the Israeli mission, organised a big event in honour of the Poles who had saved Jews. Influential guests such as academics, journalists, diplomats and various experts – people who help shape public opinion in their native countries, became acquainted with the history of the Ulma family.

But probably still a lot of time will pass before accusations of complicity of Poles in the Holocaust disappear from public discourse in many countries...

It's getting better and better. Just to mention the journalists who attended WYD and reported on the visit of the Holy Father in Auschwitz, none of them used the phrase “Polish concentration camps.” It's important for us that in a few years – as obviously such changes can't be done overnight – this term disappears completely from circulation. Regardless of the Ulma Family Museum, our agencies do hard work in this area: in 24 Polish institutes, in cities such as New York, Paris, London, Moscow, Rome, Tokyo, Berlin, events aimed at national elites are held to promote Polish heroism and the good name of our country. They bear fruit. We want to show abroad cultural works that tell the truth about our history. Certainly, films such as Aftermath won't be shown in any Polish diplomatic mission. Unless by way of illustrating of anti-Polish propaganda, with an appropriate commentary. Screening a film such as Ida outside of Poland is harmful to Poland as it deals with the Holocaust without presenting any Germans and the film depicts crimes against Jews committed by Poles wanted to take over their property without explaining the historical context to foreign viewers. This is unacceptable.

Which productions are worth showing in that case?

It's a good thing that interesting productions such as the TV series Czas Honoru or films Popiełuszko. Wolność jest w nas and Jack Strong are appearing. We're also waiting for new proposals, we want to promote films abroad that we can be proud of.

In what condition did you took over the MFA after your predecessors?

For instance, the Polish Institute in Stockholm was to a pretty large extent dealing with LGBT issues, with a focus on rainbow politics, rather than Polish issues. However, as Polish taxpayers I think we would expect it to deal with Polish issues. The Department of Public and Cultural Diplomacy, whose task is, inter alia, to promote Poland abroad, getting through to the elites in other countries – out of 62 people employed there, only one or two persons were dealing with historical policy. The rest was dealing with Polish fashion and design, and stuff like that. Of course, it's also important, but it seems to me that every serious country deals with historical policy – especially a country such as Poland, which has neglected this issue for 70 years. Now, there's a large Division of Historical Diplomacy, we want to make up for the years of stagnation in this area. It's worth noting that historical policy doesn't mean dwelling upon the past. In fact, on the one hand it’s an homage to those who fought for us, but it's primarily a policy directed towards the future, building a good image of the country, for which every serious country uses history.

Because if we make others think of Poland as a noble country which keeps its agreements, which has always been on the side of democracy and Western civilisation, I think it will be much easier to win over public opinion in other countries. It will affect governments, for example, in the event of a serious crisis, when Poland will need support. If we bring this to mind, I think that governments deciding to send troops to defend Poland will have the support of public opinion. On the other hand, if what we bring to others' mind is a small, mean country, taking part in the Holocaust, I think that this decision will be much more difficult to digest for the public opinion.

It will be difficult to fight for this historical truth, since even Polish journalists tell people abroad that Poles are fascists. How should we react to this?

We have to tell the truth. We invite foreign journalists for study visits to Poland, our agencies send official protests, we explain, show the truth, but Poland is a free country and that's why people critical of us can say what they want. After all, we won't put people in prison for that, that's freedom. It's a kind of paradox that those who say that there's dictatorship in Poland use the anti-government slogans freely.

Ukraine which doesn't want to accept our assessment of events in Volyn is also undoubtedly a challenge for public diplomacy.

It's not a question of assessment, but the truth. What happened in Volyn was genocide and by sweeping this fact under the carpet we won't build good relations with Ukraine, and they’re essential for the stability in our region. We have to face the truth and close the subject. The Volyn Resolution was needed now, at a time when the Ukrainians are building their identity. We hope that Ukraine will build this identity on heroes who don't have criminal blood on their hands. At the moment they're at the crossroads. They can build their identity on noble people such as the Ukrainians who saved Poles in Volyn, or they can build it on criminals. What will happen in 10 years – will Ukrainians brought up on the cult of Bandera and our society be able to be as close as we would want to be? It's a rhetorical question.

What ideas does the MFA have for the Polish diaspora?

The Polish community abroad is a very important partner for us. Let's remember that with 36 million Poles in the country, there are 20 million of our countrymen abroad. It's a huge part of our nation. And we want to treat it as a partner. There were times that the previous governments treated the Polish community as a problem, as a supplicant. We consider the Polish diaspora to be a partner. We have plenty of suggestions: we amended the Polish Charter which now allows for acquiring Polish citizenship, because it's better to bring into the country compatriots from the East than immigrants from other circles of civilisation, work on an actual repatriation of Poles from Kazakhstan is ongoing. However, we also have an idea for our compatriots in the West – we want to introduce a school ID for children learning Polish so that while visiting their grandparents to Poland they are able benefit from the same discounts as children living here. We also want to create a constituency for the Senate so that the Polish community could choose its senator who would be responsible only for matters pertaining to the Polish community. But we also have requirements for the Polish community. Every compatriot abroad should be the ambassador of the Polish cause. We want the Polish community to help our diplomacy build a positive image of our country, to tell the truth about our history. As voters, they have a huge impact on the attitude of politicians in their countries towards Poland. Let the Polish community be a lobbyist of our national interest, like the Polish Americans in the 90s put pressure on the USA regarding Poland’s accession to NATO, and now – the World Polonia Council regarding the presence of allied troops on our territory.

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Jan Dziedziczak - Secretary of State for Parliamentary Affairs, Polish Community Abroad, Consular Affairs and Public Diplomacy. He graduated in political science from the Faculty of Journalism and Political Science of the University of Warsaw. As a scholarship holder of the Japanese government  and the United Nations University in Tokyo, he took part in information policy and media training hosted by public broadcasting corporations in Japan, Australia and New Zealand in 2005. In 2008, he completed an advanced defence programme at the National Security Faculty of the National Defence University in Warsaw.

From July 2006 to November 2007, he was press spokesman for Jarosław Kaczyński’s government. Since 2007, a deputy to the 6th, 7th and 8th Sejms. His parliamentary work involved the Polish community abroad, the repatriation of Poles from Kazakhstan, and building Poland’s image abroad. He was active in the Culture and Media Committee, the Committee on Liaison with Poles Abroad, and the Extraordinary Subcommittee for Examination of Citizens’ Bill on Return to Poland of People of Polish Extraction Deported and Exiled by USSR Authorities.

He was also a member of several permanent parliamentary delegations and bilateral groups, including the Polish Sejm and Senate’s delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, the Sejm and Senate’s delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Republic of Poland and the Republic of Moldova, and the Parliamentary Group on Belarus. Moreover, he was chair of the Polish-Icelandic, and co-chair of the Polish-Serbian and Polish-Romanian Parliamentary Groups.

22.08.2016